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Good advice on aging gracefully stands test of time

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My grandmother used to tell me: “Boy,” she’d say, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.”

“What you mean?” I inquired.

“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. Or at least it will seem that way. Time just seems to fly by even faster the older you get. All I can tell you is to stay healthy, age gracefully, and don’t go to extraordinary measures to look like something you’re not.”

“Like what kind of measures?”

“Like trying to look half your age when you’re an old coot and everybody knows you’re an old coot. Look at the old codgers with their fat stomachs, fancy clothes, designer eyewear and hairpieces. Or some of these old bats who wear short skirts, smear red lipstick across their craw, grow their hair long and straight and then dye it jet black. When they turn around and look at you it’s a horror show.”

“So what are you supposed to do?”

“Well, just be tasteful about it. Do what you have to do to make yourself feel good but don’t go around looking like a clown.”

We had similar conversations on numerous occasions and they were always entertaining. She had the benefit of wisdom and was usually right about such matters. And, what’s more, you didn’t mess with her. She’d pin your ears back in a second. In fact, she was a master at it — not in a brutish way — but with wit and subtlety, so that a minute later the thought might occur that you’d been outmaneuvered and now appear a little…stupid and trifling? Could it be? And then five minutes after that the terrible epiphany: Yes, stupid and trifling (and neatly insulted to boot). And if I try to retort now it will simply remove any doubt from everybody’s senses.

Just recalling that type of conversation got me thinking not only about aging gracefully but also about fashion trends or miscues that abound now, as they always have.

The other day, for example, my wife and I were driving around having a good laugh at all the different variations displayed by both young and old.

Here was the young lady with higher-waisted shorts that seem to be coming back in style — as opposed to the low-riders that sometimes get so low it’s a wonder they don’t fall off altogether. There was nothing wrong with the high-waisted look (and, no, I am talking about a clothes style and not a sorority party), but the shorts were way short. “Cheeky” might be a better word for it. “Not cute” was the official verdict, although at least one person in the car thought it was high fashion.

And here was another lady — maybe not so young — a tad on the heavy side wearing an excessively tight T-shirt and her midriff exposed. I’ve heard such a look referred to as a “do wrap,” because that’s what the midriff does when it falls over the belt. It do wrap it up. Again, not necessarily appealing but certainly interesting how one might want to showcase that type of look.

Older ladies and gentlemen fall into serious traps when they try to dress beyond their years — going retroactively, that is. The dissonance between aging skin and bones dressed in clothes that look like they came out of Forever 21 can be startling.

The Countess Louise J. Esterhazy (nom de plume of fashion critic and women’s magazine publisher John Fairchild) recalled an entertaining evening spent with Coco Chanel in one of “her” columns. The subject of their conversation was style of dress in the mature lady-in-full. “Chanel begins with her usual harangue about how all other designers are, in her words, ‘a joke.’ Balenciaga doesn’t know how to cut a pair of pants, Yves Saint Laurent can’t cut a jacket, and on and on. Then she turns on me, telling me my suit jacket is horrible and I should change tailors. She grabs my arm and raises it, then begins pounding me in the armpit.

“’You don’t understand,’ she says, hammering away. ‘A good jacket should be nailed to your arm.’

“Chanel turns from me to another of her pet peeves — short skirts (thank God I was wearing pants). ‘Short skirts are all wrong,’ she insists. ‘Let’s face it — the knee is the ugliest part of the body. Women who are desperate wear short skirts.’

“What, I ask, is the ideal length of a skirt? Chanel bounces off the couch and starts to pound at her skirt. I notice that her legs aren’t that bad for someone in her 80’s. ‘This is the right length—see, it goes up and then it goes back down again to cover the knee’”

Chanel may have been right. As already mentioned, though, bucking certain fashion trends and styles is a losing battle — always has been and always will be. And thankfully so, because it always gives a columnist something to write about.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@

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